Davin Malasarn works as a Senior Writer at UCLA and recently published his first collection of shorts and flash fiction called The Wild Grass and Other Stories. He was a 2008 Emerging Voices Fellow with PEN Center USA. His works have been published in the Los Angeles Review, Opium Magazine, Rosebud, SmokeLong Quarterly, and other places. He is currently searching shelters for a small mutt that he can take home and call “Fred.”
Q (Meg Pokrass): Have you had a mentor? Have you yourself been a mentor?
Mentoring has taken on a deeper meaning to me because I recently spent two months trying to really define it for an article I was working on in my day job. It’s a special thing, isn’t it? A combination of teaching and love. I’ve had some important mentors in my science life, but I haven’t been as lucky in writing. I think mostly I’m afraid to call on other writers to serve as mentors because everyone seems so busy. (I imagine a situation where some wise person leads me up a mountain and forces me to live there for 10 years, growing my own rice and writing stories without words. That opportunity has yet to present itself.) Having said that, though, I’ve learned a great deal about writing and the writing life from people like Mary Yukari Waters and Kathy Fish, both of whom are beautiful writers and generous people. I tend to include references to fish in most of my stories in honor of K. F.
What makes us care about fictional people?
I used to try and break down the traits that make us care about someone. I thought I could put together a list of things like: charitable, intelligent, kind, etc. But then I started to pay attention to the traits possessed by literary characters I love the most, and I’d come up with things like “hangs a screwdriver around his neck” or “always looks sick.” I realized that developing a character that people care about has to be much more intuitive. Why do we fall in love with people? We love people because they smell like bread or because they need a step stool to reach the top shelf. We love people because they don’t care if their fingernails get chipped or because they always tear their pants. (Okay, I’m not sure I ever fell in love with someone because they always tear their pants.) I think people want to be convinced that the character is or represents real people or someone who could be real. When we stumble upon someone like that in a book we judge them, and if we like them, then we hope they reach their goals.
What do you listen to inside yourself, what directs your writing…?
For me it’s not so much that choose what I listen to inside myself as it is hearing anything inside myself at all. I feel so bombarded by the outside world that listening to my inside world is often a huge challenge. But that’s the most important thing about writing. At least it has been for me. That’s the thing that has helped me to improve the most. I try to access the source, the part of me that forms before the rest of the world colors it. My first novel was about a nudist, a bird flu, and a magic swimming pool. That was over ten years ago and before I ever took a writing class or thought about publication. I think my journey as a writer is to get back to that place again and write the same story using a better skill set.
What do you do when you feel stuck or uninspired and does it work to trick the brain into working?
I don’t fight it too much when I get stuck. These days, if I don’t feel like writing, I give myself permission to do other things. If I didn’t my home would be even messier than it is now. Usually I’m drawn to things like music, painting, and cooking, and that almost always inspires me to write again anyway. Mary Miller also told me that whenever I get stuck I should just read. That’s excellent advice.
What writing prompts work for you if they do?
I tend to avoid writing prompts because I usually need something more personal to cling to in the begin of my writing process. My own lack of imagination is maybe to blame, but my stories often feel too technical when I work from a prompt.
Do you listen to music when you write?
I often try to manipulate my own emotions when I write, so, yes, music often comes into play. Radiohead always makes me feel more creative. Shostakovich helps me access my dark side. Sometimes if I need a pick up, I listen to the Black Eyed Peas, which either gets me to write or gets me to dance around in my living room–both of which seem productive.
Talk about putting together your award winning collection The Wild Grass and Other Stories – anything about this process…
The biggest obstacle to me publishing Wild Grass was finding the courage to self-publish. So many people told me it was a bad idea, but deep down I knew it was what I wanted to do. I’ve wanted it for several years. Once I made the decision to really do it, I looked through my body of work from the last ten years or so, and I picked out the stories I had an emotional attachment to and the stories that I thought were strong. I wanted to take readers around the world. I wanted to include published stories and those stories that were so personal to me that I never even submitted them. I still feel a sense of fear associated with some of the work I put out because some of it is so autobiographical. But I think that’s a good thing. I think that’s what should be put out.
What are you working on now and next?
Now I’m working on a novel about these six people who take part in an experiment to live forever. The deeper I get into it, the more I realize that all six people are some part of me, and really the book is about my own views of life and death and success and failure. I guess it’s a science-fiction book, but I’ve never really liked reading science-fiction myself, so it probably doesn’t fit into the genre too well. But I’m enjoying working on it.
The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday, Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is the editor-at-large for BLIP Magazine, and her stories and poems have been published widely. Her first full collection of flash fiction, “Damn Sure Right” is now out from Press 53. She blogs athttp://megpokrass.com.